In the first quarter of 2013 the Foundation for the reconstruction of the Schnitger organ at the Lutheran Church in Groningen was established. The goal is to rebuild the lost Schnitger organ in the most authentic way possible, on the gallery at the east side of the church where vocal and instrumental music is being made. The inauguration is planned for October 31 of the Reformation anniversary 2017, exactly 500 years after Maarten Luther posted his 95 theses and 300 years after the former organ was rebuilt.

A lost organ

In 1699 the famous organ builder Arp Schnitger of Hamburg, Germany, bestowed an organ upon 'his' Lutheran congregation in Groningen1. The instrument had two manual keyboards (great and positive). In 1717 the organ was extended with a free pedal - according to a plan prepared by Schnitger - to cater for the growth of the congregation. The work was carried out by Schnitger's local assistents Jannes Radeker and Rudolf Garrels. This instrument has sadly been decommissioned by the organ building firm of Petrus van Oeckelen and sons when they installed a new organ around 1896.

In 2001 special cantata services were reintroduced in the Lutheran Church of Groningen. As a result the Lutheran Bach Ensemble was founded in 2006. It aims to perform (Bach-)cantatas as faithfully as possible according to the historic traditions. This requires a suitable organ for the accompaniment. Research has shown clearly that Johann Sebastian Bach predominantly used a large organ with multiple divisions and a free pedal when he performed his compositions. In a historic source his son Carl Philipp Emanuel - who was schooled by his father - describes that an organ with 16 foot stops is indispensable. In a collection of chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach2 he writes 'daß man sie ohne Pedal nicht spielen kann' ... 'Der seliger Verfasser (J.S.B.) hat wegen des letzteren Umstandes auf ein Sechzehnfüssiges baßirendes Instrument, welches diese Lieder allzeit mitgespielt hat, gesehen'.


After careful consideration the Foundation has elected the organ builder Bernhardt H. Edskes of Wohlen (Switzerland) to carry out the reconstruction. Born in Groningen, he boasts a wealth of knowledge about and hands-on experience with organs built by Arp Schnitger. Through a number of outstanding restoration projects (e.g. Nieuw-Scheemda, Uithuizen, Melle and Mariana, Brasil) and by building (in the Waisenhaus Church of Basel, Switzerland) a replica of the Schnitger organ of Grasberg, Germany his firm has convincingly shown its remarkable craftmanship over the past few decades.

The reference point for the project is the situation of 1717, for practical purposes however with a Praestant 8' instead of a Praestant 4' as the 'sound foundation' of the organ. Archival research revealed the measurements and compass of the former instrument and also the surprisingly low pitch (the so-called 'Kammerton', stipulated in the contract with Garrels and Radeker). This pitch makes the organ ideal for accompanying baroque instruments. The original stop list was already well-known from a number of sources. From a practical point of view a separate continuo keyboard is planned that allows for playing the great division of the organ from the position of choirmaster(-organist).

An impression of the new organ on the east gallery (click to enlarge).

1. Praestant 8'1. Gedekt 8'1. Praestant 8'
2. Holpijp 8'2. Blokfluit 4'2. Bourdon 16'
3. Octaaf 4'3. Octaaf 2'3. Octaaf 4'
4. Siffluit 4'4. Woudfluit 2'4. Mixtuur V-VI
5. Nasat 3'5. Quint 1 1/2'5. Bazuin 16'
6. Octaaf 2'6. Scherp6. Trompet 8'
7. Sesquialter II7. Kromhoorn 8'7. Cornet 2'
8. Mixtuur IV
9. Trompet 8'
10. Vox Humana 8'

Tremulant, positive to great sliding coupler, pitch a1 = 415 Hz.

The organ case will be constructed from massive oak and decorated with traditional wood carvings in the style of Jan de Rijk. This guarantees a good 'fit' with the church interior (pulpit by Jan de Rijk). The Foundation also has the opportunity to obtain statues of trumpet-playing angels carved by Jan de Rijk (most likely for the former organ). These were moved to their new organ in Appelscha by Van Oeckelen and sons in the late 19th century. This organ is currently being decommissioned and the statues become available.

A photo of one of the statues.

The lower keys of the organ will be covered with boxwood, the upper keys will be done with ebony. The costs for the entire project are estimated at about EUR 565,000.00. The Foundation expects to be able to raise the money that is required through donations by charity funds and individuals, grants and by making pipes of the organ available for payed 'adoption'.

Why this project?

  • Arp Schnitger is widely considered to be the 'Stradivarius among organ builders'. His remaining organs will be nominated for the UNESCO world heritage list. In the Netherlands sadly no organ by Schnitger of the type Great - Positive - Pedal has survived. The project therefore adds something unique and valuable to the organ landscape in the city and province of Groningen.
  • Now presents an excellent and special 'moment in time', exactly 500 years after the Reformation took place and 300 years after the former organ was rebuilt. The original contract that survived in the archives together with the availability of an organ builder with exquisite knowledge and experience offer a great opportunity to carry out an optimal reconstruction, exactly in the way Schnitger used to build his instruments in even the smallest details. It will also foster the research into the materials, alloys, practices and tool usage by Schnitger.
  • The pitch of a1=415 Hz makes the organ ideal for accompanying baroque instruments and ensembles. The use of a large organ in the performance of cantatas is an ancient practice that is currently gaining a lot of momentum (as witnessed by e.g. the 'All of Bach'-project of the Nederlandse Bachvereniging. Also the organ provides an extra dimension for the Musica Antiqua Nova recital series with ancient music in the Lutheran Church.

1. When he was in Groningen, Schnitger frequented the services of this congregation, as did his assistents and successors. Albertus Anthoni Hinsz was buried in this church.
2. Published with a foreword by Carl Philipp Emanuel (Leipzig, Johann Gottlob Emanuel Breitkopf, 1784).